Gifts of the Earth and Sea. Preached by Rev. Lee Bluemel at the North Parish of North Andover, MA, Unitarian Universalist. September 23, PDF

Gifts of the Earth and Sea Preached by Rev. Lee Bluemel at the, MA, Unitarian Universalist Have you heard the news? It just came in from Mother Earth. 100% of today s Americans are 100% dependent. Oh,
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Gifts of the Earth and Sea Preached by Rev. Lee Bluemel at the, MA, Unitarian Universalist Have you heard the news? It just came in from Mother Earth. 100% of today s Americans are 100% dependent. Oh, I m not talking just about veterans or elders, or those who don t pay income taxes, or those who do pay payroll taxes, or those who are too poor to have enough to eat. I m talking about everybody who is alive. We re all dependent, 100% dependent, and before it s too late, it s time to reclaim dependency as a positive word. We are dependent, after all, on the air we breathe, on the trees, the atmosphere, the oceans and rivers. We are dependent on the dirt and the rain, the sun and the pollinators, dependent on the animals and plants we eat. We are dependent on others for love, care, learning and work. We are dependent on truck drivers and farmers, computer programmers and doctors and too many others to list or count. We depend on the ancestors- from human to single-celledwhose lives brought us to this very moment, we depend sometimes on the beauty in life that lifts our eyes and our spirits. We depend on each other and on the earth, and some would add, on the goddess or God. But theistic or not, God-focused or earth-focused, we might all agree that dependency is part of who we are. Yet in a society like ours, it s easy to forget this. There s the one about when scientists get together, decided humans don t need the divine anymore. So they appoint a delegate to convey the news. Approaching the goddess, he says, We ve decided we no longer need you. We can clone people now and do so many miraculous things, you might as well retire! The goddess listens patiently: OK, but first let s have a contest to make another human. Scientist: Great! Goddess: Do it like the old days with Eve and Adam. Scientist: Sure, no problem he bends down and grabs a handful of dirt. Goddess: No, no you go get your own dirt! Our modern technology allows us to forget our dependencies and fantasize self-sufficiency in even the most basic of ways- in ways that are new to humans in just the last century or so. Consider, for example, the most basic elements of our survival, like our food. Those of us living in this country can enjoy a magnificent abundance of food that is out of season, which is a lovely and illusory daily practice. The people who built this Meeting House in the 1830 s didn t eat strawberries in September, but they did have apples. They certainly understood the cycles of the harvest much better than most of us, and took for granted an intense reliance on their neighbors. In her book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, writer Barbara Kingsolver chronicles a year that her family decided to survive only on local food food produced in their county or by themselves. They decide to begin their experiment in April, and her younger daughter is grumpy because she loves fresh fruit and there is little fresh fruit to be found in their county in April. Bravely, Kingsolver trudges off to the local farmers market on a freezing April morning. It is, as she says, a grim sight that meets their eyes-- only eight vendors, no other customers. She decides to buy something from each, not just out of compassion, but because her family will rely on this food and her daughter is really grumpy about missing fresh fruit. She finds green onions from one vendor, turkey sausage and lamb from another, baby lettuce, black walnuts each item an April miracle. And then, at the very last table when all hope was gone, she finds rhubarb As she writes, Big crimson bundles of it, all full of itself there on the table, loaded with vitamin C and tarty sweetness and just about screaming, Hey, look at me, I m fruit! Or close enough to fruit when baked in a cobbler. Her daughter s mood is lightened, and the experiment can go on. And Kingsolver makes a full time job out of farming and finding local food. Most of us can t take it to that level, and our spiritual challenge as First World people is cut out for us. Forgetting our dependency on the earth and the seasons, we poison her, heat her up and deplete her resources, in the process make life more difficult for ourselves. Forgetting our dependency on those who ve come before us, we take life for granted and wonder why we feel isolated. Forgetting our dependence on the universe and all that is, we lose the sense of humility, awe and gratitude that can re-shape the tenor of our daily lives from daily drudgery into daily praise. So the degree of our dependence is not a question only for politics, but a central religious question. For thousands of years, humans have expressed their sense of dependence on forces beyond themselves. We ve shown amazing creativity in creating rituals meant to entreat, appease or influence the gods. Whether the gods have paid any attention is anybody s guess. Yet it s quite certain that religion has the power to influence our societies and ourselves. Indeed, some argue that the main purpose of religion is to change society s values. This morning we heard a bit about the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. It is a holiday with both historical and seasonal meaning. Seasonally, like the pagan holiday of Mabon, it is a joyous harvest festival. In fact, it is possible that our own Thanksgiving may have originated in Sukkot. The Pilgrims were deeply religious people and would have found their holidays from the Bible. Sukkot would fit the bill. Indeed, the Mayflower historian Caleb Johnson believes the original Thanksgiving was a harvest festival, observed in October, like Sukkot. In addition to a celebration of the harvest, Sukkot recalls the journey of the Israelites through the wilderness, after Moses led them out from slavery in Egypt. As the story goes, the Israelites lived and wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. During that time in the wilderness, they lived in temporary shelters. It was a time in their communal life when they were most dependent on God, and most aware of their dependence on God. It s an interesting exercise, and leads me to muse about my own family history. Was there a time in your family history, when you, your family or your people were particularly dependent on others? Did reliance on others confirm family bonds, or did dependence become a dirty word? Was there a time- perhaps when your people immigrated to this land- that they were most dependent on strangers, on relatives, on God, to survive? If so, how does that shape your family story, and perhaps even your faith? If not, do you suspect there ever was such a time? Are there stories you might share with your children? And what about your own life have there been times when you were particularly dependent on others for your survival-- difficult times, physically, spiritually, or emotionally? If a certain time comes immediately to mind, how did that shape your story, and perhaps even your faith? Did you find yourself perhaps more aware, more grateful, whether to others, to God or to Life and the earth? Was your spirit you closed down by your experience or opened up, having learned what it is to feel newly vulnerable, newly aware, newly humble? In the collective Jewish story, a time of great dependence on God was during the wilderness wanderings, when the Israelites were without a true home. Thus, a central tradition of Sukkot is building a temporary shelter, and then eating, sleeping and living in it for 7 days. It is intriguing that Jews are to do this- to voluntarily re-create an experience of insecurity and utter dependence- exactly when they are most surrounded by signs of security and abundance. It is during harvest time- the time of abundant food- when they are supposed to move outside into a shelter without four walls. Now, Sara and I were planning on having the children build a sukkah today during their time together. But it turns out that it s a really big project to make a proper sukkah for humans so we decided the kids could make temporary shelters for animals instead. If you walk through the garden after service today, keep your eye out for some temporary shelters that might be just the right size for a chipmunk or frog. For human beings, a sukkah must be at least 5 feet wide and have three walls. It s roof must be made of something that grew from the ground tree branches, corn stalks, bamboo reed, sticks or two by fours. This roof has to be kept loose- it can t be tied together or tied down. It has to be loose enough to let the rain come through and loose enough so someone in the sukkah can see the stars at night. I m not sure how I d feel about being exposed to the rain, having had plenty of soggy childhood camping experiences. But I like the idea of falling asleep every night looking up at stars. Have you ever done that? Spent every night for a certain time frame falling asleep looking up at the stars? If so, do you remember how it made you feel? Can you imagine if our entire society so valued a heightened sense of dependence on the earth, on Life, on Goddess or God, that all those living in a permanent home intentionally engaged in an exercise like this once a year? And that those with special personal or familial success knew they would have to work even harder than most to re-capture the sense of dependence? Maybe the number of days in a sukkah would increase along with one s economic safety net. Or maybe those who wished to focus their practice could exchange places with those living in temporary shelters. Or perhaps living under a roof with holes big enough to let in the rain and see the stars would be enough to get the point across, no matter how wealthy we are. Perhaps being open to the elements- with all their discomfort and all their wonder- would bring us all back to earth to humility and awe, gratitude and wonder. Perhaps it would be enough to enlarge our compassion, our sense of connection, and remind us that every being- including ourselves- is a miracle to behold. Of course, just this morning as I was leaving the house, a Globe headline caught my eye: If you need to change an entire culture, here s a tip: don t be too idealistic regarding human nature. (So much for preaching!) But I read enough to learn to change how a group of people thinks and behaves, all you have to do is convince them that everybody else is doing it, sukkahs for everyone! Well, it s unlikely that those whose survival is secure in this world will become Jewish or start building sukkahs, or that most of us will, but we might practice humility in our own lives. And pass those practices on convince your kids and friend that everybody s doing it. It might be simple-- a grace before eating or a place in the home for photos of ancestors. It might be re-framing something you already do: an annual camping trip that you might think of now as part spiritual practice and an exercise in humility, or a trip to the farmer s market, a meditation on dependency and thanksgiving to the earth. The truth is that many of us have these practices already, practices that put us in touch with the scripture of earth-centered traditions namely, the earth and its seasons. It s part of the reason why so many of us were at Ferry Beach this weekend, taking in the sounds of the sea. It s why so many of the UU ministers at a fall meeting this past week named aspects of nature when asked where they d encountered the holy. And it s part of the reason why we Unitarian Universalists can understand each other wherever we are on the UU theological spectrum when it comes to the question of the divine. Some of us are atheists, humanists, scientists. Some of us are theists or UU Christians. Some of us are pagans, Buddhists, Jews or undecided or muddling through. Some of us are pantheists, and see nature and the divine as one and the same. Some of us are panentheists, and see the divine in nature but also beyond. Some of us are process theologians, and translate God language to refer to the unfolding creativity of the universe. Some people can t understand why we worship together and get along so well. I believe it s because, while names and understandings may differ, our response to being alive is the same, our attitude is the same: humility and awe, gratitude and wonder, compassion and connection the sense that each living thing is a miracle to behold. It s been said that the purpose of religion is to change society s values. So I m working for a new headline splashed across the newspapers and iphones of the world: Americans are no different than every other people that have ever lived on earth or are living now. We are 100% dependent, and we re keenly aware of it keenly awake and deeply grateful for the earth, for life, for the energy of creation, for all that is. Amen.
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